Dear Master Gardener: I see so many irises growing this time of year, but I don’t have much luck with them in my yard. Can you help me?
Dear Unlucky: Actually, luck has nothing to do with your problem. I can definitely help you. A dear friend of mine and excellent master gardener, Sarah Stone, took me to a meeting of the South Carolina Iris Society last week. They are the last word in iris cultivation. I got quite an education, and I would like to pass a little of that information along to you. I always thought you could throw an iris on the ground and it would grow, but that isn’t exactly the way true iris aficionados go about growing these gorgeous perennials. Number one, full sun is a must -- no shade lovers here. The soil should have a normal ph of about 6.8, and should be well drained. The part about throwing them on the ground has some truth to it, in that they actually want to sit on the soil with their rhizomes (fleshy roots) partially exposed and thinly covered with soil. If you order your plants from a catalog, they will arrive in the fall. They need to be thinned about every other year. So, if you have a friend who has irises, try to stay on their good side and they will probably give you some. That’s called a "pass along plant" when you trade a plant that you have plenty of to a friend who has plenty of another plant to trade. The fall is the best time to divide irises. After your iris blooms, cut the stem down all the way, but don’t cut the leaf portion. The leaf feeds the rhizome. Don’t be tempted to cut the plant in that familiar fan shape. If you leave the leaf portion, you will have a better chance to see your plant re-bloom. Bearded iris is the big iris, but there are numerous varieties. The Louisiana iris is an exception to the rule, as it likes to have its feet wet. To feed irises, use a fertilizer low in nitrogen. Feed them when you are preparing the soil for planting.
If you would like to meet the experts and see some truly perfect irises and buy a few special varieties, the South Carolina Iris Society is having its annual show in Columbia at the Columbia Garden Council Building on Gregg Street from 1-4 p.m. on April 29. Admission is free.
Dear Master Gardener: I have been reading about lilacs, and they look beautiful. Will they grow here in the Midlands of South Carolina.
Dear Curious: Not to my knowledge. Better try something more South Carolina friendly!